THE WORLD LOVES TO HATE HATRED

Talk about being behind the rest of the world, next thing you know I’ll be discovering that people landed on the Moon when my back was turned. See, I finally got round to playing Hatred, the recent isometric shooter to hit Steam in the same way that a brick with a rude note tied to it hits a window.

Hatred was announced a while ago, and garnered a lot of press attention because of the fact that the objective of the game is to run around an American town with more weapons than the average platoon, gunning down everything you see for basic recreational purposes. Can’t we just stick with Crazy Golf?

Let me start by saying I do quite like the visual design in Hatred. It’s almost completely black and white in the Sin City/Madworld/Schindler’s List style, with important factors like fire or police lights done in full colour and the whole thing comes across as quite engaging to watch, if nothing else. I’m getting this complement out of the way early because it’s the only thing I’m going to praise. The rest of the game is a load of rubbish.

Right then, let’s get down to the meat of it – you play as an unnamed character in a douchebag leather trench coat, who is inexplicably angry at everything in the universe. Oh god, I thought, as he growled his threats at the camera. This is going to be a long evening.

Oh, and to the developers I say this: the “unnamed character” aspect is bloody asking for it in my opinion. People will instinctively fill the gap with the first name to float through their thoughts, and it my case it was Mabel. Somehow I don’t think that’s what you had in mind, but that’s as seriously as I’m going to take this greasy wanker.

Mabel and Shotgun

Excuse me, good sir. I believe my shotgun barrel is blocked. Could you possibly check for me?

Anyway, Mabel has decided that he’s bored of the fetid worms in this dying corpse of society (no, he really does talk like that), and from behind the black curtains of his award winning “world’s worst haircut” he makes the momentous decision to run out and start blowing heads open like they’re a bunch of coconuts in a shy.

Then he gets shot and killed ten minutes later because the controls are rubbish. There’s little niggles, like the inability to control the camera, but then there’s some big ones, like the fact that you have to sprint at cover to vault over it. But this requires both a run-up and that you come at it from a direct angle, and several times I found myself glancing off fences like a sparrow flying into a window pane.

Also, I’m fine with destructive scenery, Hatred, but not the way you do it. Red Faction proved it was fun to drive through the wall of a bunker and watch it collapse. XCOM proved it was useful to blow holes in buildings to get the best angle of attack. And in Hatred, the ability to knock down a wall with a well-placed grenade would be fine, but not if it’s just useless. At one point I got swamped by the scurrying insects of this corrupt and tiresome world (that’s the local constabulary to you and me) and tried to flee through a gap in the wall I’d made earlier.

Except that Mabel ran smack into nothing and just started jogging on the spot like he thought this was a good time for his morning cardio. Oh, I see. Destruction physics with a low attention span. Do we want to give this programming lark another go?

The AI is just as useless. Civilians will run when they see you open fire, but only for about five seconds before they lose interest and start milling around again like farmyard turkeys. Some enemies will see you before you’ve even entered the same building – presumably they use X-ray specs – and they all seem to gravitate towards fire like suicidal moths.

On top of which, the only way to regenerate health is to perform executions on weakened enemies, which all involve some boring fatality in which Mabel shoots them or cuts them up whilst looking like he’s trying not to ejaculate all over his coat.

But this means that there’s almost no point in using the better weapons, which all kill in one hit and don’t allow you the chance to get your HP bar back up. And considering there’s no penalty or danger in executing people (all the enemies stop shooting whilst you do so, presumably they’re keeping score), you might as well use only the starting pistol so you can stab your way to full health when you need to.

Mabel Dances

You gotta practice your dance moves, even when you’re in the middle of a killing spree. You – are – GOLD!

The weird thing about Hatred is that it gets boring VERY fast. Killing people has shock value, but it’s not long before you realise that it’s all this game has to offer, and it’s not even very good at that. Nobody shows any humanity or intelligence whatsoever, so it’s hard to feel sympathetic for these automated screaming machines, and Mabel himself is about as complex as a Bond villain. We never know why he wants to kill, or what drove him to this state. Maybe if he had demonstrated internal conflict we would’ve felt something more towards him, but he just clomps outside in combat boots and starts smirkingly gunning down people at the bus stop.

I also noticed that the game is tagged with the word “Mature” on Steam, which gave me a good chuckle. It’s anything but mature, this is the sort of game a thirteen year old with too many Image comics finds cool. Everybody who’s grown up at all knows that this is just ridiculous, it’s a child’s view of what adult material should be.

In fact, Hatred seems kind of cynical in my mind and not in the obvious way. It’s the bare minimum needed for controversy, you know what I mean? People might have been worried about the message, but there is no message here. It’s been made purely to exploit the profit that comes with a controversial release, and there’s nothing else to it. No statement, good or bad. Just a product out to make money.

I couldn’t help but wonder if the developers were having fun with it by the end. There are times where I come close to thinking that the game is a parody of itself, a knowing jibe at the silliness of the basic concept. Mabel is a rejected slasher movie monster as opposed to an actual character, and I just started laughing at his stupid lines about “toxic vermin” and “blessed damnation.” They’re not being serious with this, right? I’m imagining the voice actor trying to get through his lines without giggling, whilst the guys doing the recording pull faces at him through the glass and wear black wigs that come down to their shoulders.

But it doesn’t matter. The media took it in a straight-faced manner, and I’m sure they’ll take the relative success of the game seriously too, when there’s really no need. The reason that it sold so well was that most people wanted to know what all the fuss was about. They’re only interested because pundits spent several months telling them that they shouldn’t see it. It’s basic human curiosity, it’s Pandora’s box. Tell us we can’t have something and we’ll want to have it more, just to understand why we can’t.

And the reaction from those who played it was actually pretty encouraging. The critics just rolled their eyes and went back to The Witcher 3, and the Steam page is littered with joke reviews taking the piss out of the game. Isn’t that strange? The only people who were looking for an evil message were those that didn’t want the game to be released at all.

But I can anticipate the response to this of argument. Some might say that we have been desensitised to violence and gore by these kinds of games. Desensitised by Hatred, by Postal, by Grand Theft Auto, by Manhunt. Even my precious Dark Souls got a lot of attention when it was found in the room of the Craigslist Killer, Miranda Barbour. Thanks, Fox News! Another reason for me to hate everything you stand for.

But I really don’t think violent games do effect us much. There’s a little switch, an understanding that registers in people’s minds. We know when we’re observing a fiction or a harmless fantasy, and when we’re observing real life. We can make that distinction without difficulty.

In an age where you find footage of anything online, we’ve all probably witnessed video recordings of people dying, be it publicised tapes from terrorist groups or live news of police combat. The one that haunts me most is the suicide of the politician Budd Dwyer, who took his life at a press conference in 1987 when he put a revolver in his mouth and pulled the trigger, all the while advising people to stay back lest they be hurt accidentally, and ignoring the pleas of those around him.

It’s horrible to watch, the sort of thing I shall not forget within my lifetime. I think it’s the speed with which it happens, the rapidity in which he goes from a complex human being to an unthinking object on the floor. After pulling the trigger, he drops with startling speed, blood leaking out the top of his head and pouring in streams out of his nose, as witnesses scream and rush forward.

I never knew the blood came out of somebody’s nose when they did that. It never occurred to me that it would.

Budd Dwyer

R.I.P, Mr Dwyer. I’m sorry that it had to end the way it did.

But that’s the point. That’s real life, and no rational person looks at that event after playing Manhunt and shrugs their shoulders. The experiment’s been done, we see people react in visible horror to this kind of footage, whether they’re gamers or not. They still have that basic empathy that they had before they started playing. The reason we don’t respond to gaming violence is because we understand it’s not real, we can see the difference.

I think that might be the reason for violent figures often having violent games to hand. I don’t consider those games to be the cause of aggression, instead I think they’re the outlet for aggression, at least for a time.

If a person feels angry and wants to hurt somebody, maybe it helps him to let it out of his system in a harmless, pixelated world. But of course, they too can see the separation. They understand, like us, the difference between a false world and this one. And for that reason the game has limited capacity as an outlet for that anger, and that’s when things get very bad.

Do you really think that a game could do otherwise? Drive a normal, sane person into the realms of psychotic insanity? Turn a pacifist into an axe-murderer? If this were true, why did we not see a spike in aggression when GTA V was released? The last figures put the sales of that game at 52 million copies, so why has gamer violence not gone through the roof in the last two years? It’s had the time, and should only have gotten worse with the PC and next-gen console releases.

It’s important to distinguish that it’s not the case that games make you crazy, because people keep trying to ban them for that reason. Australia and Germany won’t allow Hatred within their borders for a start, and there have been other games that have suffered the wrath of short-sighted political figures who want something to get all righteous about. Maybe with time they’ll work out that we’re grown-ups and can choose for ourselves how we spend an evening. Maybe.

Anyway, I’m thoroughly miserable after thinking back on poor Mr. Dwyer. Time for a bar of chocolate and some digital killing sprees in Just Cause 2. And you know what? I’m not even going to use a hookshot on anybody in real life afterwards.

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